Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

No Common Ground Left: Freedomways, Black Communists vs. Black nationalism/Pan-Africanism

Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

No Common Ground Left: Freedomways, Black Communists vs. Black nationalism/Pan-Africanism

Article excerpt

Prologue: The Split

John Henrik Clarke (1915-1998), who by October 1982 had trained a generation of Black historians, edited nearly a dozen books and had at least three decades of what the late Black press scholar Roland Wolseley called "scholarly journalism" (1) under his belt, was not the focus of the article about a Harlem event published in the Harlem Weekly, a small weekly newspaper, on October 22-28, 1982. However, he was a prominent part, with his comments taking up a whole column of the three-column article written by Janice Cummings.

Clarke, an African World History professor in the department of Black & Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College in Manhattan, spoke to 24 War College graduates at the Harlem YMCA on October 12, 1982. It was a weird pairing: a radical Pan-Africanist speaking to future leaders of America's military-industrial complex, one Clarke and others on the left would clearly label imperialist.

In the article, which quotes Clarke liberally (and mentions other Harlem dignitaries who were there), he talked about Africa's needs and how Black Americans can be sent to the continent to help.

Under the sub-head "America and Russia," he was quoted as saying this:

"America is in a better position to assist third world nations than Russia," Dr. Clarke said. "Both the U.S. and Russia may be wrong in this rivalry. Maybe it should be thought out more. America has greater engineering intelligence than Russia because Americans have done such things more.

"Russia's recent construction of a dam in Egypt, for instance, ran into millions of dollars. Initially, Egypt asked the U.S. to build the dam but was refused; so Russia built it because they were anxious to establish 'good will.' The dam, however, was built in the wrong place and as a result water began to seep under the pyramids.

"When you work in a hurried, anxious manner as Russia did in building that dam, you don't have time to explain to the people what they need to do as a result of such technological changes. Plus, what may be applicable to one African country many not necessarily be applicable to another.

"Karl Marx left a terrible legacy about the culture of non-western people that is simply not true. No 'primitive' mind could have dreamed up the complexities of an African kinship system or the pyramids. A serious study of non-western societies and a wedding between them technically would generate a sound relationship. Then this country would not have to worry about what Russia is going to do because communists are moving toward capitalism, anyway." (2)

Clarke's comments about the Soviet Union caused a firestorm among Communists because he was an associate editor of Freedomways magazine (1961-1985), a "Quarterly Review of the Negro Movement." (3) By 1982, the Communist Party USA (CPUSA), the behind-the-scenes sponsors of the magazine, had allowed Freedomways editors, including Clarke, to produce several book anthologies in the 1960s and 1970s. (The magazine was funded either directly by the CPUSA and/or indirectly by the Communist parties in the Soviet Union and China. (4)) And now it seemed Clarke was biting the hand of the Communists who printed him! "I had made a speech, a tongue-in-cheek speech, to the people from the War College visiting the Harlem Y," said Clarke in an oral history interview about his tenure with Freedomways. (5)

"The speech was on the peacemaker, 'The Warrior as Peacemaker.' It was tongue-in-cheek because I knew people in the War College were CIA and FBI agents. They came to America to be trained so that they could dominate their own people for America. So I stood before them, son of a sharecropper from Alabama, ... I'm literally laughing at them. I knew damn well that they don't give a damn about what I am saying." (6)

James E. Jackson (1914-2007), however, did. He was a member of the Communist Party CPUSA's political bureau. …

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